Norwegian businessman Erik Henriksen died by misadventure, a coroner’s jury determined on Wednesday after hearing evidence since Monday about the circumstances in which he drowned in November, 2015.
The verdict of the four men and three women hearing the matter was unanimous.
Evidence called by Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik indicated that Mr. Henriksen, 58, was aboard his new 34-foot boat with an employee, Warren Weiss, in the North Sound.
Mr. Weiss, who was acting as captain, left the helm to move the boat fenders before docking, and Mr. Henriksen was driving the boat. It made a sudden sharp turn and both men were thrown overboard.
The boat, valued at around US$450,000 was equipped with three Mercury 350 horsepower outboard engines and could travel at 70 mph, the jury heard.
The coroner read the statement of John Aune, who said Mr. Henriksen was a personal friend whom he had known since August 2013. Mr. Henriksen had several businesses and traveled to Grand Cayman frequently. He did not have any relatives on island.
He was the sole owner of the boat, which was built in Fort Myers, Florida, in September 2015. It arrived in Grand Cayman and cleared customs on Oct. 21/22 that year and was launched on Oct. 24.
Mr. Aune said when he took it for a test drive “it performed OK.” Mr. Henriksen arrived by air from Montreal on Friday, Nov. 6.
Other witness statements indicated that Mr. Henriksen, Mr. Weiss and others went out on the boat that Saturday and Sunday. GPS equipment aboard showed travel around North Sound, including Rum Point and Kaibo.
On Monday, Nov. 9, which was the Remembrance Day holiday, the two men went out on the boat again, picked up a guest at George Town Yacht Club and traveled to the Cayman Islands Yacht Club where they had lunch. The jury saw a receipt that included two double vodkas with side mixes for Mr. Henriksen.
They left around 5:15 p.m., took their guest back to George Town Yacht Club and then departed to return to Mr. Henriksen’s house at The DeckHouses at The Ritz-Carlton. Mr. Weiss said he was in charge of the boat and they were going 40 to 45 mph about a quarter-mile from shore, talking and listening to music. They went past the entrance to SafeHaven and then turned around to enter that channel.
When Mr. Weiss left the controls to change the fenders and docking lines, Mr. Henriksen was driving the boat. Then he felt the boat make a sudden sharp turn and he as flying through the air.
The coroner noted that no mention had been made of anyone wearing any safety vest. There were no photos of any life vests. The lanyard that would have stopped the engines [if its wearer went overboard] was obviously not used, “so we have no evidence of safety precautions being taken,” she pointed out.
In the water, Mr. Weiss saw Mr. Henriksen thrashing around, about 10 meters from him. He swam over and talked to him to try to calm him down. Eventually he was able to place Mr. Henriksen’s head on his shoulder and tow him to shore. He was talking to him, but at some point Mr. Henriksen was not responding and Mr. Weiss felt his body go limp and heavy.
He estimated it took him almost two hours to get to shore. He went for help, found a security guard and used that man’s phone to call 911. Mr. Henriksen was taken by ambulance to the Cayman Islands Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 12:57 a.m. on Nov. 10.
Meanwhile, GPS printouts showed, the boat had continued in a generally northern direction, making hundreds of circles before cutting into the mangroves in the Barkers area of West Bay. The GPS drawings indicated that “something happened” at 6:11 p.m. that left the boat unmanned and it ended up in the mangroves at 7:53 p.m. – a total of 102 minutes.
Several people had called the Port Authority to report a vessel seemingly out of control.
Darren Michael Burlington gave a statement in which he said he went to the area by boat with family members. His father gave him a flashlight and he jumped aboard the boat, which had its navigation and interior lights on. The stereo was playing loud and the engines were still running. “The throttles were to their maximum,” he said. He put the engines in neutral and then shut them down. He looked around, but didn’t see anyone on board. He did see alcohol bottles.
Police guarded the boat through the night until Scott’s Marine removed it the next day. A police scenes of crime officer attended, took photos and removed personal belongings. She saw nothing suspicious, the court heard.
Mr. Weiss said Mr. Henriksen had been drinking at his house before they went on the boat. He said he himself was not intoxicated: it was a new boat and he did not want to be the first person to put a scratch on it.
Government pathologist Shravana Jyoti concluded that the physical cause of death was drowning, based on findings that included seawater in the deceased’s lungs and froth in the airways. He noted that Mr. Henriksen’s blood/alcohol level was .295 – almost three times the legal limit for driving a vehicle in Cayman. He thought that alcohol level could have affected Mr. Henriksen’s ability to cope with what had happened.
Mr. Jyoti also found two broken ribs, which he said would have affected Mr. Henriksen’s ability to swim. The coroner subsequently read a statement from a witness who said Mr. Henriksen had lifted his shirt at the restaurant to show a bruise which he said he had received while wrestling with a friend in Montreal. The pathologist said the bruise was where the fractures were, but the fractures would not have been obvious externally. Apart from a small cut over one eye, there were no other marks.
After reviewing the evidence, the coroner pointed out that there was no evidence of death being due to natural causes, suicide, lawful or unlawful killing. There was only one category that fit all the evidence and that was misadventure, which is the undertaking of a task during which something goes wrong.
Referring to a statement from the guest who had been aboard the boat before the incident, the coroner said that maybe Mr. Henriksen liked to go fast and turn the wheel.
The witness had reported that while Mr. Weiss was operating the boat, Mr. Henriksen had pushed his hand over her and grabbed the wheel and made a sudden turn so that Mr. Weiss had to regain control.
The inquest was attended by a representative of the administrator of Mr. Henriksen’s estate.